Olympia Police Department: Embracing Change

By Rich Allen | Chief of Police of Olympia

I have been a member of the Olympia Police Department (OPD) for many years. My interest in law enforcement and public service came at a young age. I started serving with OPD as a volunteer police explorer when I was 15 years old. I have been fortunate to have risen through the ranks, having had the opportunity to serve in numerous specialty assignments, to lead the organization as Acting Chief of Police since October 2021; and now to have the honor of serving as Olympia’s permanent police chief.

Like others across the country, the OPD has shared in the public anger and outrage that resulted from the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. While the OPD has prided itself for years on being more transparent, forward-looking and sensitive to the values ​​of our community than many other police officers. Departments, policing checks faced in 2020 taught us that we, too, still have important work to do.

Undertaking this work with the necessary commitment requires a level of humility and openness about where the organization is and where we need it to be. I am proud of how OPD and its employees have embraced this work and the changes it brings. Here’s some of what’s in the works:

A civil police auditor
In November 2020, Olympia City Council contracted the law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC to provide police auditor services to the City of Olympia. The Police Auditor provides an expert, neutral, third-party civilian review of the work of the OPD, including:

  • investigations of complaints made against the police service or its employees to ensure that we meet our own professional standards and industry best practices.
  • use of force, internal complaints and investigations.
  • responses to public demonstrations and crowd management when events result in physical injury, significant property damage, or if the City Manager deems it appropriate to review.

The Police Auditor also reviews and recommends revisions to the police department’s policies, procedures, and training relating to complaints, the use of force, and the internal investigation process based on the findings of the audit. The Department uses recommendations from the Police Auditor to further adjust policies and procedures and ensure we are aligned with industry best practices and community expectations.

Finally, the police auditor submits a semi-annual and annual written report to the city council, with a copy to the city manager and the chief of police. These reports are also made available to the public through the Olympia Police Department. Accountability and Transparency Webpage. I appreciate the increased transparency that the auditor’s work has brought to the critical contacts that the OPD has with community members. This will only serve to improve the Department and strengthen the community’s confidence in us.

Crowd Management Policy
Nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have also reverberated in Olympia. We experienced more than 70 protests in the months that followed, resulting in large-scale property damage and injuries to participants and police officers.

The Department’s response to these events drew criticism from many members of our community. Accordingly, in early 2021, the Department drafted Guidelines for Demonstrations and Crowd Managementwhich guide our management of crowds on the ground.

The City Council also commissioned an independent review of our response by our Police Auditor, which resulted in recommendations that add needed clarity and consistency to the ministry’s approach. One of the recommendations resulting from this review was to institutionalize the approaches of our Guidelines by adopting a comprehensive formal crowd management policy.

The policy will provide clear direction to officers and supervisors regarding public safety strategies that balance the right of individuals to exercise freedom of expression and the safety and security of the community. The police department is currently working on the development of this policy and is committed to ensuring that it is informed by information received as part of the City’s public safety reinvention process.

Body Worn Cameras
Increase transparency and public trust, strengthen accountability and seize opportunities to learn; OPD will integrate body-worn cameras and on-board video systems into its work. The Department will use the Police Auditor’s recommendations, along with community feedback, to develop a camera policy that is fair, inclusive, and meets the needs and concerns of our community. We expect body-worn cameras to be in place in the summer of 2022, and in-vehicle video to be implemented in 2023.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Our department is committed to employing a diverse workforce and providing our officers and staff with appropriate training. Diversity, implicit bias, procedural justice and anti-racism training are important components of our curriculum, and the Department is committed to providing ongoing training in these areas. Our hiring managers work closely with the Public Service Commission and our Human Resources department to ensure that our hiring practices are fair, equitable and impartial. We are committed to employing a workforce that reflects our community.

Reinventing public security in Olympia
In July 2021, the City launched an inclusive community-led process to assess and make recommendations on the City’s public safety system. It is led by a community working group made up of nine community members who represent a cross section of Olympia’s demographics, expertise and experiences. They are dedicated to listening carefully to community members through focus groups, town hall meetings and an online survey. This work will lead this summer to a recommendation to the municipal council.

The work of reinventing public safety recognizes the interdependence of the city’s justice system and considers all of its parts, from the OPD and the municipal jail, to our municipal prosecution, defense work and municipal court . OPD supports and listens carefully to this process, and the recommendations will inform our policies and practices.

State-level police reform legislation
Over the past three years, we have seen several key pieces of legislation regarding police reform. The Law Enforcement and Community Safety Training Act (also known as I-940) required officers to undergo de-escalation and mental health training; independent investigation required into incidents involving the use of lethal force by a law enforcement officer; and established a requirement for law enforcement to provide first aid in certain situations. Many of these requirements were already standard procedure and policy for our department. All of our patrollers have completed more than the required and available training.

In 2021, several other laws were passed. Changes to the law regarding police pursuits, use of force, de-escalation, and the creation of a state office of independent investigation necessitated some changes in our policy formulation. Again, many of these new requirements were already part of our culture and operating procedures here in our department.

While all of the efforts listed above are making positive and evolutionary improvements to the way we police Olympia, it’s important for our community to know that these efforts are also consistent with the host’s history and culture. change of OPD. We understand that to be the great ministry we strive to be and to serve our community as it deserves and expects, we must always be forward looking, serve with humility and be ready to adapt to latest and best law enforcement practices.

I have dedicated my life to public service and the law enforcement profession. I am honored to be the next Chief of OPD and will continue with the same dedication and dedication to ensuring that your police service is one you can trust and be proud of.

Article published with the kind permission of the City of Olympia. Read it original blog here.

Aubrey L. Morgan